For Langleyâ€™s Desiree Wallace and Nicole Kilistoff, and their travelling partner Landon Yerex, a journey to northern B.C. has given them a deeper insight on First Nations people in that area, and their efforts to preserve sacred land.
In mid-July, Wallace, co-founder of Beyond Boarding, joined Yerex from Courtenay on a cycling trip from Fort Langley to Sacred Headwaters, an area Wallace calls, â€œa vital ecosystemâ€ between Iskut and Dease Lake.
Kilistoff followed along in a support vehicle, a Delica van converted to run on waste cooking oil.
In total, they biked 2,000 kilometres to Sacred Headwaters.
Their hope was, and continues to be, to bring to light the ongoing efforts of First Nations people to keep the piece of land in northwestern B.C. pristine.
The goal of Beyond Boardingâ€™s Cycle to the Sacred Bike Tour is to generate financial and social support for what Wallace describes as â€œa group of land defenders,â€ the Klabona Keepers, at Sacred Headwaters.
Klabona Keepers is an organization of Tahltan elders and families who occupy and use traditional lands near Iskut, known as Tlâ€™ab ne, the Sacred Headwaters of the Stikine, Nass, and Skeena Rivers.
Wallace said she first learned about the Klabona Keepers and their territory when a few of her closest friends including Yerex, Tamo Campos, John Muirhead, and Jasper Snow Rosen traveled there last fall to document their battle with Fortune Minerals, a company that she says, â€œhad been given a permit to proceed with exploration drilling for a proposed 4,000 hectare open pit anthracite coal mine in the heart of Sacred Headwaters,â€ which, Wallace added, â€œwould undoubtedly decimate their traditional hunting grounds and cultural centre.â€
â€œWe use and occupy that land every summer. We take our kids there to teach them our culture, and thatâ€™s where we gather our moose meat for the winter,â€ said Rhoda Quock, spokesperson for the Klabona Keepers.
At the time, Wallace didnâ€™t understand the full significance of what the term â€œuncededâ€ meant.
â€œIt transcended the videography and stories my friends came back to shareâ€¦ it ignited something within me, to take action, to learn more,â€ Wallace said.
And so she, Yerex, and Kilistoff made an impromptu decision to go on an adventure on bicycles to see these people and, Wallace said, â€œtheir incredible territory this summer from Vancouver, raising funds for the grassroots group of elders and families and sharing their story along the way.â€
A dramatic scene unfolded on Sept. 12, according to Wallace, who emailed the Advance with an update.
â€œWe made it to our final destination and there is a lot going on here,â€ she said, on behalf of the Klabona Keepers.
â€œToday, three police officers, two police snipers, and drill operators surrounded a drill site being occupied by unarmed, peaceful Klabona keepers and Beyond Boarding members five kilometres south of Iskut,â€ she wrote in the email. â€œThe group occupied a Black Hawk drill, hired by Firesteel Resources Inc., on September 8th because they had already been told to leave the territory twice this summer after drilling without consultation or consent…â€
RCMP senior media relations officer Sgt. Rob Vermeulen noted that, as with any protest, the RCMP is an impartial party, adding that there were four uniformed members from Dease Lake detachment at the site.
â€œWe attended the area on Friday, Sept. 12 to uphold the law, maintain the public peace, and ensure safety for all parties, including the protesters,â€ Vermeulen said, adding that, â€œOne of the [RCMP] members carried a rifle for bear protection as they had to hike through the bush to get to the site, not unlike the protestors who had two rifles and a crossbow. There were no issues, and no arrests.â€
Following the incident, the Cycle to the Sacred group remained in the area in support of the Klabona Keepers.
â€œI must say it is the most sacred of places I have and probably will ever have the honour of being amidst and the Klabona Keepersâ€¦ exude that same power and strength embedded in the land and water,â€ Wallace said. â€œYou really have no idea until youâ€™re in the headwaters amidst the untouched Earth for as far as the eye can see and still, further.â€
Wallace said there is a feeling you get when you look out at â€œwhat seems to be an everlasting horizon on the coastâ€™s oceanic body.â€
â€œHumbled. Connected. Empowered. Bewildered. Mother Earth is so vivid here,â€ she added. â€œHer heart beats strong and life-blood runs thick through the wind, rain, sun, soil, plants and animals. It is host to the most valuable salmon-bearing watersheds in this nation and continues to be put at risk, but nevertheless protected by those most deeply connected to it.â€
Wallace described the area as one of the largest intact ecosystems in the world â€œand that is attributed to the resilient voices and actions of the Klabona Keepers who have and will continue to keep it the way it is now, sacred.â€
She said that, â€œgrowing up in an institutionalized education system, I was blinded from this truth â€“ the real history of so-called British Columbia.â€
Wallace added that she was able to begin to understand colonization not as great European exploration and discovery, but for what it was: â€œthe genocide of indigenous people in the conquest of resource extraction.â€
â€œTo this day, governments have used an agenda built on oppression and assimilation for the benefit of mainstream culture and economic growth,â€ Wallace said. â€œFrom the Small Pox epidemic, to Residential Schools, to the introduction of alcohol and drugs, to the thousands of cases of missing and murdered indigenous women, many have suffered tremendously. It became clearer as we cycled that this is not only a struggle in
The Sacred Headwaters, but across this province, nation and world.â€
Wallace believes B.C. was â€œstolen.â€
â€œDespite that the extermination of people indigenous to this land has failed time and time again,â€ she added. â€œThere is a groundswell of indigenous resistance and settler allies who have come together to resurrect the truth â€“ actively decolonizing together and using our gift of voice to uphold rightful sovereignty.â€